An airborne disorder is any disease that is caused by a microorganism that is transmitted through the air. Many clinically important airborne diseases are caused by a variety of pathogens including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These organisms may be transmitted through sneezing, coughing, spraying of liquids, spread of dust, talking, or any activity that results in the generation of aerosolized particles. It is important to be aware that airborne diseases, in general, do not include disorders caused by air pollution, poisons, smog, and dust.
According to the World Health Organization, “Airborne transmission of infectious agents refers to the transmission of disease caused by dissemination of droplet nuclei that remain infectious when suspended in air over long distance and time.” Airborne transmission can be characterized as obligate or preferential depending on whether it is only transmitted via droplet nuclei or if it has multiple other routes of transmission. 
The microorganisms transmitted by an airborne route may be spread via fine mist, dust, aerosols, or liquids. The aerosolized particles are generated from a source of infection such as an infected patient or animal. In addition, aerosols may be generated from biological waste products that accumulate in garbage cans, caves, and dry arid containers. In aerosolization, the microorganisms that are less than 5 micrometers in size float in the air. These microorganisms, contained in droplets, are then dispersed via air currents to varying distances and can be inhaled by susceptible hosts. Although a majority of the particles will drop off within the vicinity, the infected aerosolized particles often remain suspended in air and may even travel considerable distances, . As the distance between the source and susceptible individuals increases, the rate of transmission decreases. Airborne transmission necessitates the use of available interventions in healthcare facilities to break the transmission of airborne particles from patient to patient and patient to healthcare workers. Airborne particles are considered highly infectious as they often remain suspended in the air and travel by air currents to different parts of the hospital where there is a potential of them being inhaled by others. In some cases where there is inadequate ventilation, the airborne particle may remain in the hospital room for extended periods and may even be inhaled by a newly admitted patient.
The control and prevention of airborne transmission of infections is not simple; it requires the control of airflow with the use of specially designed ventilation systems, the practice of antiseptic techniques, wearing personalized protective equipment (PPE), and performing basic infection prevention measures like hand washing. 
In almost all cases, airborne pathogens cause an inflammatory reaction of the upper airways affecting the nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs. The involvement of these structures may result in sinus congestion, sore throat, and lower respiratory tract symptoms. Any coughing or sneezing activity may then generate aerosolized particles leading to airborne transmission. Some of the common pathogens that may spread via airborne transmission are:
This is a non-exhaustive list that only encompasses some of the common diseases that have been implicated in airborne transmission. A special note to be made is regarding COVID-19, the 21st century pandemic which is thought to spread through airborne routes (among other routes). Active measures to prevent airborne transmission has shown to curb its spread.
Airborne diseases are not exclusive to humans and can also infect animals. A notable example is of poultry that is often affected by an avian disorder (Newcastle disease), that is also transmitted via an airborne route. However, it is important to understand that exposure to an animal or a patient with an airborne disease does not automatically ensure disease transmission. The infection also depends on the host immunity, the amount of exposure, and the duration of exposure to the infected patient. 
Besides patients, several medical and surgical procedures may also generate aerosolized infectious particles. In most cases, these airborne particles are generated during the manipulation of the lung airways. These include:
Care must be taken while performing the above medical procedures on patients known to have diseases with high transmissibility through airborne routes.
Factors that influence airborne transmission
Airborne transmission depends on several physical variables characteristic to the infectious particle and the environment. Factors that influence the spread of airborne infections include the following:
An article published in 2009 highlights how every pathogen has its own set of ideal environmental conditions for airborne transmission. Generalization of the unfavorable conditions for aerosol transmission may be misleading. Each pathogen should be separately studied in this regard.
When patients are seen in the emergency room or admitted to the hospital, it is impossible to know immediately if there have an infection that is transmissible via the airborne route. Thus, healthcare workers need to maintain a high degree of suspicion in patients who present with signs and symptoms that are compatible with such an infection. The earlier the airborne prevention methods are adopted, the lower the risk of transmission to other patients and healthcare staff. 
Airborne Isolation Room
This is a single patient room equipped with special air handling (negative pressure) and ventilation capacity. An airborne isolation room is also known as a negative pressure room. This negative pressure room is usually a single-occupancy patient-care room frequently used to isolated individuals with confirmed or suspected airborne infection.
Elements of an Airborne Isolation Room
What is an Anteroom?
This is relatively clean and is a frequently used area to transition patients/healthcare workers in and out of the airborne isolation room when it is under negative pressure. An anteroom is frequently used as a transitional space between the airborne isolation room and the hallway. It is in this transition area where healthcare workers store their PPE and put on their PPE before entering the airborne isolation room.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal protective equipment forms a cornerstone of protection against airborne diseases.  All healthcare workers who enter the negative pressure room should wear an appropriately fit-tested N95 respirator. The N95 respirators are individually fitted and can filter particles one micron in size. Studies show that the mask has a 95% filter efficiency and provides a tight facial seal with less than a 10% leak.
To use the respirator appropriately, one should do the following:
In hospitals, patients admitted to the negative room often have to be transported to other departments like radiology, physical therapy, the pulmonary laboratory, or even another hospital. Before transferring a patient with an airborne infection, one must always communicate with the relevant department first. The guidelines for transportation are as follows:
Patient and Family Education
Patients who require isolation due to the risk of airborne transmission need to be counseled regarding their condition and infectivity. Their family members, caretakers, and visitors must also be educated so that they may abide by preventive guidelines to ensure that the disease is not transmitted. The patient should be educated on coughing etiquettes to ensure the minimum spread of aerosolized particles in the isolation room. Face tissues and handkerchiefs must be properly and appropriately disposed of to further decrease the chances of transmission. Furthermore, a sign recommending infectious precautions should be placed outside the isolation room so that all visitors may be apprised by the guidelines. Unnecessary visits should be avoided and all immunocompromised individuals must refrain from entering the isolation room. The use of N95 respirators and hand hygiene must be followed by all visitors without lapses.
Duration of Precautions
However, one also has to be aware of the period of incubation and if unsure, always consult with an infectious disease expert
Managing Deceased Patients
When a patient is deceased, airborne precautions remain necessary when handling and preparing the body during transfer to the morgue. Similarly, performing an autopsy also warrants proper personal protective equipment and the use of N95 respirators.
Managing specimens and rooms of patients and with airborne infections
When a patient with an airborne transmissible disease has been discharged, it is important to continue airborne precautions while decontaminating the room. The door must remain closed and negative air flow must be maintained until all air in the room has been recirculated and replaced. This process usually requires 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the room. Soiled linen should be handled with gloves with minimal agitation to prevent dispersion of microorganisms into the air. The laundry hamper should be close to the location so that the linen can be placed inside rather than carried a long distance. If there is obvious contamination with body fluids, the linen should be placed in a plastic bag. Proper handling and transport of specimens: All body specimens should be considered to be infectious and handled safely.
Due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19, there has been an acute shortage of personal protective equipment and N95 respirators. This has made hospitals, doctors, and public resort to alternate precautions for airborne transmission. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), N95 respirators are not recommended for daily wear by the public. Instead, the CDC recommends that the public may use a simple face cloth covering to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Alternatively, simple surgical masks are also considered effective at blocking large-particle droplets, splashes, and splatters that may contain viruses and bacteria. Surgical masks can also help reduce the dispersion of one's own saliva and respiratory secretions to others, thus proving important to contain the spread of pathogens. While considered important, surgical masks do not filter or block small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, and other medical procedures (intubation). Thus, N95 respirators are considered the protection of choice for healthcare workers when dealing with patients diagnosed with diseases that may be airborne. N95s are designed to ensure a tight fit around the nose and mouth so that they can efficiently filter out 95% of the particles sized 0.3 micrometers or more without leakage of air. Due to their tight fit and filtering capabilities, breathing in an N95 respirator is associated with heat build-up and distress. To make breathing easier, some models of N95 respirators come with exhalation valves that make breathing out easier. Care must be taken to not use those valves when sterility is required. Due to the immense shortage of N95 masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued the emergency use authorizations of decontaminating proecedures for some respirators, provided there are insufficient supplies of new ones. Multiple methods for decontamination have been described by the CDC including the use of ultraviolet radiation, vaporous hydrogen peroxide, moist heat, microwave generated steam, and ethylene oxide. Alternatively, CDC also recommends that 5 N95 respirators may be issued to each healthcare professional so that they may wear one respirator each day and store it in a breathable paper bag at the end of each shift to decontaminate it using time. This guideline is based on the study that outlines that SARS-CoV-2 is able to survive for up to 72 hours on various surfaces. Other studies are also determining whether using a surgical mask on top of an N95 respirator extends the life of the respirator.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, another respirator gaining popularity is the KN95 mask. This is manufactured in accordance with the standards of China. It is claimed that the KN95 masks are similar to the N95 respirators for filtering non-oil-based particles. Despite these claims, the FDA has not yet authorized the use of KN95 respirators.
The management of airborne infections is with an interprofessional team aided by hospital guidelines and rules. All healthcare workers including the nurse have a vital role in preventing airborne infections. an interprofessional team approach involving clinicians and nurses will produce the best results in preventing the spread of infections. The following principles should apply:
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